Butterfly Predators
Common Toad
Bufo bufo LINNAEUS, 1758
Toads spend the early stages of their development as tadpoles in ponds or ditches. When full grown they live entirely on land, and spend the daylight hours hidden away in holes amongst tree roots or under hedges. At dusk they emerge to feed on small mobile prey - worms, beetles, woodlice, slugs, snails and caterpillars. They feed voraciously, consuming 100's of insects in a single meal. They are major predators of nocturnal grass-feeding caterpillars including Satyrines and Hesperiines.

Common Toads enter hibernation in late October and re-awaken in February or March the following year. Both sexes then migrate over a period of several days until they find their original birth place, usually a deep pond or ditch. During the migration the male mounts the female, which carries him to a pond. The female then locates a water plant upon which she lays a long glutinous string of up to 7000 eggs which become entangled around the plant. The male fertilises them as they are laid.

After a week the developing embryos can be distinguished within the eggs. A few days later they wriggle free from the surrounding jelly, becoming free-swimming tadpoles. During the early stages of development the tadpoles feed on algae. As they grow larger, the limbs develop and the tadpole takes on the appearance of a miniature toad. By this time it has changed it's feeding habits, moving from algae to plankton, and later to small crustaceans and invertebrates.

Toads secrete toxins which protects them against certain predators, but birds such as crows learn to disembowel them and discard the toxic parts. The greatest natural enemies of toads are flies - the greenbottle Lucilia caesar lays its eggs on the toads body. After hatching the grubs crawl up into the toads nostrils, causing it great distress. A few days later they start to consume the eyes and brain, slowly killing the toad. Finally they consume the remaining flesh, leaving just the skin and skeleton.

Toads which are lucky enough to escape this dreadful death can live for up to 10 years, but large numbers are killed by cars during their migrations. In many areas of Britain conservation groups fix temporary barriers by roadsides to divert the animals, or construct tunnels beneath roads so they can cross safely. In recent years toads and all other amphibians across the world have become the victims of a highly infectious disease caused by the chytrid fungus Chytridiomycosis dendrobatidis. The disease is particularly prevalent in temperate regions of the world. It causes severe lethargy in its victims, with the result that they starve to death or are unable to flee from predators.



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